Haigazian University in Lebanon

Armenian International Magazine AIM Vol. 11, No. 1, January 2000, pp. 52-53


Hratch Tchilingirian

One of the most valuable contributions of the Armenian Evangelical Church and its commitment to education is the establishment of the Haigazian University in Beirut. After four decades, it remains the only Armenian institution of higher education in the Diaspora. Haigazian — which has graduated over 1,600 students since its founding in 1955 — is accredited by the Ministry of Higher Education of Lebanon and is a member of the Association of International Colleges and Universities. It offers 19 undergraduate and four graduate degree programs.

The university is named after Yale University graduate Dr. Armenag Haigazian (1879-1921), the former principal of the Jenanian Apostolic Institute in Konya, Turkey. A respected educator and community leader, Haigazian died on the road to exile in Kharpert. His family in the US donated the seed money for the establishment of the school.

Haigazian, which had 550 students in 1999, is one of 13 universities in Lebanon and among the handful that offer classes in English, in league with the well-known, 4000-student American University of Beirut (AUB) and the expensive, 4500-student Lebanese American University (LAU). About 58 percent of the students are Armenians and the rest Lebanese and a few foreign students. It has some 100 full and part-time staff and a mixed faculty of whom about 35 percent are Armenian.

In comparison with other universities, “We provide quality education,” says Houry Mekhdjian, the university's full time recruiter and a business administration graduate of Haigazian. “We have a cozy, family atmosphere and each student gets personal attention. Students do not become just numbers,” she adds.

If still not convinced, she mentions the most important incentive in post-war Lebanon, “Haigazian is much more affordable than other universities.” Having gone through the university program herself, Mekhdjian introduces Haigazian to various Armenian and non-Armenian high schools in Lebanon and talks to prospective students with confidence as to how they can “depend on Haigazian for excellent education.” 

“We have a small campus, the students are much more disciplined and much more friendly,” says Najoie Nasr, a professor and former Citibank executive who teaches statistics, marketing and management full time in the Economics Department. “Of course, other schools have a larger diversity of students, both within political and religious lines, that we do not have. But our administration and faculty are much more focused on the students. They care about their students.”

As for the quality of education, Nasr mentions with pride that those of her students who have gone to AUB for Masters degrees “are doing extremely well.”

Like other institutions, there are cultural, linguistic and political differences among the students, but “They are all Lebanese, whether Armenian or non-Armenian,” says Nazim Nouiehed, a graduate of City University of New York and professor of mathematics since 1996. “Ultimately, it is the quality of education that matters,” he adds.

Indeed, Haigazian does not have the conventional parochialism found, for example, at Catholic institutions. “It is incidental that Haigazian is Armenian, what’s important is the level of professionalism that you have here,” says Canadian-born Ailsa McLardy, Coordinator of Continuing Adult Education.

The high cost of university education, at least by  Lebanese standards, remains a major problem for many students and their families, especially in view of the still struggling Lebanese economy. Estimated annual full tuition is about $6,000 at Haigazian.

“We attract the middle-class which is economically hit the hardest,” Mekhjian continues. “We’re into the second semester this year and have some 300 students who have not paid their full fees yet.”

Then there is the Lebanese social status factor. “Most of the guys study for future careers, but for most of the girls, university education is a status symbol,” says Ara Sanjian, professor of history and cultural studies. “A girl from a wealthy family has less interest in developing a career, than those girls who go through great difficulties in paying for their education,” he explains.

The university also offers a Lifelong Learning Adult Education Program coordinated by McLardy. Started in the early 1990s, close to 80 adults are enrolled in the university’s two most popular programs: a continuing education for adults who never had a chance to study at a university and an in service teachers training program.

Last year 85 percent of all Armenian students in Lebanon who sought a university education applied to Haigazian. A significant number of them needed financial assistance and received various degrees of financial assistance from the university, which amounted to about $300,000 in 1999. Haigazian president Dr. John Khanjian says 90 percent of the university’s two million dollar budget is covered by tuition payments. “To be tuition driven is not healthy, especially if you are a not-for-profit  organization,” says Khanjian. Further development and expansion will require new endowment funds to preserve the competitive edge of the university.

Hratch Tchilingirian
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